March toyed lazily with the handle of a teacup, absently admiring the delicacy with which the fine bone china had been neatly sheared in half. He tapped the delicate china with one finely shaped nail, letting his attention drift to the silver embroidery along the cuff of his dove grey jacket. Grey jacket and a grey waistcoat, to match his grey eyes and grey hair. What a grey, grey, grey type of day, day, day. A small sigh escaped March's lips unbidden.
"What shall we be drinking today, Mr. March?" The voice, like whiskey and honey, broke into his meandering thoughts. He looked up to see that Hatter, March's best friend and near-constant companion, had moved into the chair next to him and now his large, luminous blue eyes were scant inches away from March's face. March found himself scooting his chair back, suddenly uncomfortable with the other man's closeness. There was certainly nothing grey about Hatter: he positively vibrated with energy in his suit of burnt orange and his bottle green waistcoat, which should have by all rights clashed hideously but somehow managed to look rather dashing on the smaller man.
"What do you mean, 'what shall we be drinking today'?" demanded March a little sullenly. "The same thing we drink every teatime - tea. What, did you think today there would be wine?"
A silly smile spread across Hatter's face, and he tipped his oversized top hat (also bottle green, with a rather large playing card - the Jack of Clubs - tucked into the band) forward on his head so it sat at a rather rakish angle. "To-day, my dear friend," began Hatter, licking his lips. (Why was he so fascinated by that pink tongue licking out over that full bottom lip? Stop it, March!) "To-day, I have something extra special." And he produced a small silver flask from the inside pocket of his jacket, a wide smile spreading over his handsome face and showing off a great many straight, white teeth. "Brandy! Because," he continued proudly, "to-day is an extra special sort of day."
March eyed the rather heavy-handed dollop of brandy that Hatter poured into two tea cups. "And what, pray tell, are we celebrating that is so extra special?" he asked with a sigh, reaching for one of several teapots at the table and giving it a sniff. Did Earl Grey go well with brandy? Shrugging, he poured the tea. "And where did you get your hands on a flask of brandy, anyway?"
A flush spread across Hatter's tanned face as he delicately sipped his tea. "I made a trade with the Knave of Hearts," was his answer. "He has such a weakness for tarts, you know, and I'd just made an extra large batch of treacle tarts. I know you don't much care for sweets, and I thought, why, a dash of brandy would be just the thing for dear Mr. March!"
March made a face (Earl Grey and brandy did NOT go together after all) and set his cup down. "Let's move down, shall we?" he said to Hatter, setting a napkin over the discarded tea and humming a little dirge. "I need a clean cup." Hatter went on talking about treacle tart and liquor as he moved two placed down, leaving them both with a clean place setting and an empty cup. March plucked the flask from his friend's hand and poured a very small amount into each cup, followed by a spoonful of honey each and a black tea that smelled faintly of lemon.
"To-day, I have something I have been wanting to tell you… to talk to you about… to say… for a long while." March looked up from pouring to find Hatter fidgeting nervously with his pocket watch. Hatter took a deep breath and then looked up, focusing those huge blue eyes on March's face and leaning closer. March felt a bit like he was drowning in the thick, smoky honey-heat of Hatter's voice and in the deep wells of his eyes. Rocking-horse-flies went rollicking through his stomach as he waited for his friend's next words. Hatter leaned in closer, eyes fixed on March's mouth, and…
"Halloo!" called a voice like twinkling bluebells, and both men looked up to see a strange girl standing at the gate. Saved by the stranger, said the little voice in March's head, and he wasn't entirely sure if the voice was relieved or disappointed at the interruption.
March's eyes tracked the girl as she made her bouncing way through the gate and toward their table, and Hatter frowned at the interested light in them. What was this girl - with her gleaming golden tresses, her blue dress and pressed white pinafore, her pert little black shoes with the cunning little strap - what was she doing at his tea party? And why was his March looking at her in that intrigued, fascinated way? Wiping the scowl off his face, Hatter forced on a fixed smile.
"No room!" he called out jovially, nudging March who joined in with him. "No room, no room!"
"There's plenty of room," the girl said indignantly, a saccharine smile on her features as she sat herself in his big squashy pink arm chair, right on March's other side. A grin spread across March's handsome face as he turned toward the girl, and Hatter had to consciously stop himself from growling.
"Have some wine," March said grandly, still grinning at the girl. She looked around the table, her smile faltering and confusion crossing her face as she noticed all the tea things - and the distinct lack of wine.
"I don't see any wine," the girl said.
"There isn't any," replied March, tone still jovial. The girl's eyes widen in surprise, then settled into a frown.
"Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer it," she scolded. March's pleasant grin morphed into a look of gleeful malice.
"It wasn't very civil of you to sit down without being invited," said March, smoldering at the girl. She looked taken aback for a scant heartbeat, then a smile curled over her delicate rosebud lips. She was clearly entranced, which was unsurprising because March had that effect on people. It was those cool grey eyes, sparkling with mischief under that fringe of silvery hair. She introduced herself as "Alice" and March made their introductions in return, taking the girl's hand and kissing it gallantly.
Hatter's head exploded. At least, that's what it felt like. "Your hair wants cutting!" he blurted loudly.
"You should learn not to make personal remarks," Alice said with some severity: "it's very rude."
Hatter opened his eyes very wide, a little nonplussed. He was never very great at controlling his actions and emotions, always a little helter-skelter and wild, and he probably shouldn't have said that about her hair. (Damn her and all that glorious, golden hair… Her and him sitting there next to each other, her all golden and him all silvery, like a couple of, of… chalices, or something.) A bit at a loss, he blurted the first thing that came to mind: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
Alice seemed a bit taken aback, but adjusted quickly and smiled, looking pleased. "Oh, a riddle! I love riddles." (A riddle? What was wrong with this girl? What the hell kind of riddle is that? It was clearly nonsense shouted in a moment of panic.) "I believe I can guess that."
A spark lit March's eyes, and Hatter just knew more mischief was coming. "Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?" asked March.
"Exactly so," answered Alice, tapping her chin thoughtfully as she murmured "Why… is a raven… like a writing desk…" to herself over and over. She didn't see the smug satisfaction spread over March's face.
"Then you should say what you mean," March insisted. Hatter wasn't quite sure what the difference was, but March liked to play with words and their shades of meanings. It was one of the many things Hatter loved about the infuriating, insufferable, mercurial-mooded man.
"Oh, I do," Alice rushed to assure him. "At least, I mean what I say, which is the same thing, you know." The look of absolute glee that came over March's features then sent Hatter's stomach fluttering with a whole loaf of bread-and-butterflies, and Hatter was determined to have that beaming grin directed back where it belonged - firmly on himself.
"Not the same thing a bit!" shouted Hatter, sounded a bit strained. March turned to him in surprise as he continued "You might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"
Trying hard not to laugh, March followed that up with, "You might just as well say that 'I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'!" He threw Hatter a saucy wink, proud of his friend's wit. Hatter sent him back his best crooked grin and followed up with a rejoinder:
"You might as well say," he added, clearly becoming excited, "that 'I breathe when I sleep' is the same thing as 'I sleep when I breathe'!" At this declaration, Hatter looked so pleased with himself that it set those rocking-horse-flies from earlier racing off again in March's stomach. Their eyes met and March felt that brief moment like drowning in brandy and treacle again until Alice interrupted with a small huff, then went back to muttering to herself about ravens and writing desks. Then silence stretched out like pulled taffy while March looked back to her, watching her mouth move silently as he tried to work the riddle out. (Where had Hatter come up with such a ludicrous riddle, anyway? Was that even a real riddle?) He was just opening his mouth to say something (he wasn't sure what) about riddles when suddenly Hatter broke the silence.
"What day of the month is it?" March looked back to his friend, who had taken his watch out of his pocket again and was fiddling with it uneasily, shaking it and holding it up to his ear, a look of intent concentration on his face. March wanted to trace the furrow in his brow with a finger, or maybe lick it. (No, not lick it. One did not lick one's best friend's wrinkled brow. What was wrong with him today?)
Alice considered for a moment and then answered, "The fourth."
"Two days wrong!" sighed Hatter. "I told you butter wouldn't suit the works!" he admonished, turning his fierce gaze on March. (What? Butter? What on earth…?)
"Um, it was the best butter," March replied meekly, looking at Hatter with concern. His friend looked very honestly and actually upset about something, but March was pretty sure it wasn't about his pocket watch which hadn't worked in years, ever since that day they'd tried taking it apart and putting it back together again themselves.
"Yes, but some crumps must have got in as well," Hatter grumbled, tapping the watch with one long finger. "You shouldn't have put it in with the bread-knife."
It was all March could do not to burst out laughing at the ridiculous statement. Butter indeed. He took the watch, ignoring the spark that zinged through him as his fingers brushed Hatter's, and looked down at it with an air of despair. Slowly he lifted the watch by its chain and dipped it into his cup of tea, then looked at it again as if that was supposed to fix something. For once at a bit of a loss for words, he only repeatedly mournfully: "It was the best butter, you know."
Alice was watching them with curiosity and was clearly dying to get her two cents in. "What a funny watch!" she exclaimed, clearly angling to get a better look at the poor, soaked thing. "It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o'clock it is!"
"Why should it?" Hatter muttered sullenly. "Does your watch tell you what year it is?"
"Of course not," answered Alice, sounding like she thought Hatter was mad. "But that's because it stays the same year for such a long time together."
"Which is just the case with mine," said Hatter. The word mine came out on a growl, and March looked at him, startled. Hatter was glaring fiercely at the girl, and March unthinkingly reached out to him with the hand still holding the broken pocket watch. Hatter's long fingers curled around March's hand, watch and all, as he turned his fierce blue gaze on him. They burned like the hot bright blue at the heart of a fire. "Have you solved the riddle yet?" he suddenly demanded, his harsh voice directed at Alice but his eyes never leaving March's.
"No, It give it up," answered Alice, oblivious to the tension rising around the table. "What's the answer." Hatter's eyes searched his own fiercely, looking for something March couldn't identify, before his expression shuttered and he dropped March's hand and his gaze.
"I haven't the slightest idea," said Hatter breezily, turning his cool gaze on Alice.
"Nor I," added March, swallowing a sudden lump in this through and feeling oddly cold and bereft in the absence of Hatter's intense gaze.
Hatter watched the girl's mouth fall open in surprise when he declared he didn't know the answer to the "riddle." He couldn't even bring himself to feel pleased with her rising anger. What were they doing wasting their time with this girl, anyway? Today was supposed to have been special, the day he finally told March about how he truly felt, about -
"Well, I never!" spluttered Alice, tossing that obnoxious hair over her shoulder. "I think you might do something better with the time than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers."
"Of course you don't!" Hatter yelled, lurching to his feet and smacking his hands flat on the table, sending the china rattling and making both Alice and March startle back from him and his outburst. "I dare say you've never even spoken to Time!" (Why did he keep saying these idiotic things?! ACK! Shut up, mouth!) He tossed his head contemptuously, pretending he had the least idea what he was even talking about.,
"I don't think-" began Alice, before Hatter fiercely cut her off.
"Then you shouldn't talk," he said harshly, trying (failing) to reign in his temper. That was apparently the last straw for the girl. She shot to her feet and threw the napkin that was in her lap down on the table, upsetting March's place setting and spilling his mostly full cup of tea across the table. She spun about in a swirl of ruffles and frothy petticoats and went charging back up the lane, slamming the gate behind her.
Hatter wasn't even paying attention to her; he'd grabbed a handful of napkins and was rushing to mop up the spilled tea, which was dropping steadily off the tablecloth and into March's lap while March just sat there, staring at Hatter with his mouth hanging open. At least they'd wasted so much time with the girl that the tea was no longer scalding hot, so the tepid liquid hadn't really harmed him beyond wetting his pants through.
"I'm sorry," Hatter murmured, dabbing at March's wet pants with a fresh napkin and trying very hard not to notice the way the wet fabric clung to him. While at the same time soaking up every detail like the fabric was soaking up the liquid, making the thin fabric plaster itself to every interesting curve and bump, much like Hatter wanted to plaster himself to-
"Hatter," March said, reaching out a hand to still Hatter's movements. He wrapped slim fingers around Hatter's wrist, the pale skin looking stark and white against the tan of his own. Hatter looked up into March's searching silver eyes. "What was that about? I mean, you're always a little all over the place, a bit scattered, but I've never seen you be outright mean to someone before." March let out a chiming, silvery laugh and Hatter found himself leaning into the sound. "I mean, I know I can be a bit cruel sometimes, but you're usually the comfortable, affable one."
There, kneeling at March's feet and looking up into those gorgeous, concerned silver eyes, Hatter's heart finally broke open.
March had been trying not to notice Hatter's hands at his crotch, attempting to mop up the damp tea but in actuality stirring him into a state of arousal that would become all too readily apparent with the way the damp fabric was clinging to him. Mach had grabbed Hatter's wrist in a moment of desperation, both to stop the slight pressure that was slowly driving him mad as well as so the cloth napkin was strategically draped so as to hide any, erm, embarrassing enthusiasm. He'd been unprepared for the shock of desire that went coursing through him as his fingers closed around the jutting bones of Hatter's wrist, setting the other man a little off balance and pulling his body closer. Vaguely Mach heard himself saying something, but it was like a buzzing at the back of his head. The vast portion of his attention was on Hatter's skin under his hand, on the gentle friction caused by the brush of Hatter's waistcoat against the fabric of his trousers, on those big cerulean eyes staring up at him with something like wonder, on his growing erection in his very wet trousers…
Suddenly Hatter surged upward, his body pressing across March's damp lap, his face a scant inch in front of March's own. "I've been wanting to tell you… For years, I've wanted…" Hatter didn't speak so much as breathe, the words brushing across March's lips more felt than heard. Gently, Hatter brushed his lips gently across March's, a mere whisper of a kiss. Again, the barest flutter. Then he pulled back, his blue eyes peering anxiously up into March's own. Uncertainty shone in them, but his pupils were wide and there was plenty of what March now understood was lust and need, and maybe even love, lurking there as well. Once again March was drowning in those eyes, unable (and unwilling) to pull himself free of them.
As the moments stretched in silence, Hatter's expressive eyes filled with something else - pain? - and his expression suddenly shuttered closed. He turned his face away and started to squirm, trying to move off March's lap, and March realized that he'd just been sitting there frozen for several minutes, lost in Hatter's eyes. And Hatter had taken his lack of response as a rejection. Damn it.
March stood in one fluid motion, pulling Hatter to his feet along with him. Then he grabbed his friend by his lapels, stared deeply into his eyes, and growled, "It's about damn time," before pulling him close and kissing him fiercely. Hatter kissed him back, reaching up to twine his long fingers in the silvery strands of March's hair. Without breaking the kiss, March reached released one hand from Hatter's jacket to grasp the rim of his top hat and send it flying across the yard. Then he used his free hand and proceeded to unceremoniously sweep all the tea things off one stretch of the long banquet table and onto the ground, heedless of the sounds of smashing china and splashing tea. Backing Hatter up to the edge of the table, March ground his hips into Hatter's, drawing a moan from them both before lifting his ass onto the edge of the table and pushing him backward.
Hatter fell back on the table, splayed among the tea things like a new and delicious kind of dessert, a wide, crooked grin on his face as March fell on him and started tearing at his buttons. He returned the favor, relieving March of his damp trousers (Which, after all, any good host would do. Can't have guests sitting about in damp trousers, can you? Not the done thing.) and running firm hands over March's bare ass.
March licked Hatter's brow (because while one didn't lick one's friend's brow, it was completely acceptable to lick the brow of one's lover, after all) before moving back to his mouth. His kiss rumbled with a laugh as he thought what a show Alice would have been in for if she'd come half an hour later! And then he got caught up in making love to his best friend in the whole world, and he never thought about the girl called Alice again.